Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent much of Wednesday being grilled on Capitol Hill about the conditions which led to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. As John McCain, among others, pointed out, the chaos which prevailed in Libya was not inevitable; it was due in no small part to the administration’s failure to do more to support state-building after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in an American-supported insurgency.
The failure to follow up has destabilized not only Libya but also nearby countries such as Mali, where the French have felt compelled to rush into the vacuum to prevent Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and associated extremist organizations from consolidating their hold on the northern part of the country and even marching on the capital. What’s truly odd is how reluctant the administration is to help the French, even though they are on the front lines of our common battle against jihadism.
I wanted to weigh in on the Congressional testimony yesterday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
As most people know by now, when Secretary of State Clinton was asked by Senator Ron Johnson about the Benghazi terror attack and the fact that the story we were told by the administration was false, Mrs. Clinton exploded.
“With all due respect,” Hillary shouted, “the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans. What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Let’s be clear what Mrs. Clinton is saying. It really doesn’t matter whether the president and his advisers misled the public on the origins of a lethal terrorist attack that claimed four American lives, including the first ambassador murdered in more than 30 years. What matters, she insisted, is what we do going forward. There is no useful purpose to be served by dwelling on the past. Get over it. Move on. Chill out.
As Seth noted earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her long-awaited congressional testimony about Benghazi with excuses and an attempt to misdirect the public about what the administration knew about the incident and when it knew it. But while Clinton happily listened to fawning praise from the Democratic members of the Senate committee this morning, she lost her cool when one senator pressed her closely to account for the false story that had been put out in the days following the attack.
Senator Ron Johnson pointed out that accurate information about the assault that would have easily corrected the misconception, promoted by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and others, that the attack was merely a protest about a film rather than a terrorist attack was available at the time. Clinton not only refused to answer that question in a straightforward matter, but snapped, “What difference does it make?” about the whole matter of the false account. She then attempted to insinuate that there was still some doubt about the matter.
The answer to her question is clear. An administration that sought, for political purposes, to give the American people the idea that al-Qaeda had been “decimated” and was effectively out of commission had a clear motive during a presidential campaign to mislead the public about Benghazi. The fact that questions are still unanswered about this crime and that Clinton and President Obama seem more interested in burying this story along with the four Americans that died is an outrage that won’t be forgotten.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying today on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi in September and the administration’s response. In her opening statement, Clinton said she takes responsibility, though her statement instead makes excuses for what happened and her State Department’s myriad mistakes.
Clinton’s statement focuses on the post-attack response as well–a convenient way to attempt to distract from the pre-attack failures. For example, she says after the attack happened she saw firsthand what the accountability review board “called ‘timely’ and ‘exceptional’ coordination.” But the exceptional coordination was in removing the U.S. mission’s survivors 12 hours after the attack, according to the review board. The problem with the performance of Clinton’s State Department was that coordination prior to the attack was far from “exceptional.” Here is what the review board had to say about that:
The historian Robert Conquest once wrote that one of the fundamentally flawed assumptions of political scientists seeking to establish a “scientific” approach to understanding the Soviet Union was that they insisted the tension between the United States and the USSR stemmed from the two countries misunderstanding each other. In fact, Conquest wrote, the opposite is true: “U.S.-Soviet relations have always been good when the United States misunderstood the USSR.” FDR and Jimmy Carter were his prime examples. One of the pitfalls of “Kremlinology,” however, was that “members of the Politburo themselves do not know which way they are going to jump tomorrow.” They would wait “to see how the political wind blew.”
Many things have changed in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, but Conquest’s observations retain surprising relevance to us. Today, the government of Vladimir Putin has made no secret of Putin’s intentions and his attitude toward the U.S. And as Conquest would have it, relations between our two countries are considerably sour. And Putin’s bureaucratic drones in his “power vertical” are today still waiting to see which way the wind blows before knowing how to carry out their orders. Both these seemingly eternal truths are evident in the fallout from Putin’s horrifically cruel ban on American adoption of Russian orphans. The New York Times today builds one story about the ban around the Preeces, a couple from Idaho who are in Moscow to (hopefully) take home a 4-year-old boy with Down syndrome they are adopting. Their adoption was approved before the ban, and Putin has since suggested that the moratorium on adoptions would be postponed a year. But he has sent mixed signals, and the Russian bureaucracy has no idea what to do about cases that should be straightforward, like those of the Preeces:
Whoever becomes the next defense secretary is going to have their work cut out for them, thanks to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reported that the State Department has concluded that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have indeed used chemical weapons against civilians in the Syrian civil war. The use of chemical weapons, of course, has been the Obama administration’s declared red line for U.S. action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. As Rogin noted:
“The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable,” Obama said Dec. 3, directing his comments at Assad. “If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.” That same day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added: “we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur.”
As Alana mentioned, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense may hinge not on policy or his qualifications, but something more important to the Senate club: how much the others senators like him. John Kerry, the president’s choice for secretary of state, will almost certainly breeze through his own confirmation hearings for the same reason. But the best contrast to the story about whether the cool kids will let Hagel eat lunch with them is Politico’s story on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming testimony on Benghazi.
In the wake of the attack, which left our ambassador and three others dead, I wrote that the fact that Clinton’s State Department denied requests for more security for our diplomatic team there made two things clear. First, that declining the security requests was irresponsible given the danger of the posting, and second, that the request itself was evidence that Clinton was negligent in the attention she was paying to the Benghazi team even though the folly of this approach was becoming more obvious by the day. A subsequent accountability review report came to the same conclusions, and painted a picture of a poorly administrated, chaotic, and inattentive State Department. So what is her appearance before a Senate panel expected to be like? From Politico:
In the wake of the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11/12, the administration made up for its deceptive accounts of the incident with bloodthirsty avowals that the persons responsible would be hunted to the ends of the earth. Nearly four months later, those promises remain unfulfilled. That stark reality was brought home today by the news that the only known suspect who had been arrested in connection with the terror attack that took the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is no longer in custody. The suspect, a Tunisian named Ali Harzi, was being held in Tunis but was let go even though he is reportedly still considered a suspect by the United States.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland attempted to deflect questions about the investigation today by saying that it was the FBI’s responsibility. But that lame response goes right to the heart of the government’s ongoing failure in this case. The administration has consistently failed to treat Benghazi the way we ought to expect the U.S. government to respond to what was a direct terror attack on a symbol of American sovereignty. Instead of a full-court press from security and intelligence services, it was handed off to an FBI that seems to still be lost in Libya. From the first days during which we were told a fairy tale about the murders being a case of film criticism run amok to the present when questions about an investigation that shows no sign of life are stonewalled, Benghazi remains a fiasco for which there has no been accountability.
In December, I wrote about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to find a big-name successor, which focused on Hillary Clinton. Clinton is at the very least keeping her options open for a possible 2016 presidential run, which would have to start far too early to take on a responsibility like running New York City. But according to a report in the New York Times today, Bloomberg has been a one-man search committee, floating not just Clinton but also Ed Rendell, Mortimer Zuckerman, Chuck Schumer, and former Bloomberg deputy Edward Skyler.
That’s quite a list, and says much about how Bloomberg views the job. New York City is the media capital of the world, the front lines of 21st century homeland security, and a powerhouse when it comes to urban policymaking, especially with regard to fighting crime. There’s a reason that, as Rendell put it to the Times, he often hears it described as “the second most difficult job in the country.” There’s no doubt Bloomberg believes this–after all, he’s been in office three terms and still hasn’t gotten it right. But Bloomberg’s opinion of what it takes to run the city diverges both with precedent and the judgment of New Yorkers.
Hillary Clinton is returning to work next week, and apparently some Senate Republicans are considering holding John Kerry’s confirmation vote hostage unless she testifies on Benghazi. Sounds to me like an empty threat, but over to Josh Rogin:
Clinton has pledged to remain in the job until Kerry is confirmed, which Obama said he was confident would happen “quickly.” The Senate is expected to take up Kerry’s nomination in early January, but multiple Republican senators have already said they won’t agree to a vote on Kerry’s nomination until Clinton testifies about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Illness and a concussion has prevented Clinton from appearing thus far.
For the sake of accountability, Clinton should testify—but to be honest, she probably wouldn’t add much more than what her deputies have already said. The real benefit of her testimony for Republicans would be that she might say something self-incriminating that could be used when she runs for president in 2016. She probably knows this, which is why she’d be crazy to do it unless she’s compelled to. After all, if the GOP wants her to testify badly enough, the House foreign affairs committee can always issue a subpoena.
The Senate hearing on the Benghazi report went on without Hillary Clinton today, and one State Department official acknowledged that upper levels of the department were aware of security concerns at the diplomatic mission before the attack occurred:
A top State Department official acknowledged Thursday that cables warning of serious security concerns at the U.S. compound in Benghazi went to department headquarters – and possibly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office – in the months leading up to the deadly Sept. 11 attack.
Deputy Secretary of State Williams Burns, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the cables “would have been reviewed up through the assistant secretary level, and it may be that some of my colleagues on the seventh floor saw them as well.” The seventh floor refers to Clinton’s office.
Further, Burns confirmed “there were certainly memos” that came to Clinton’s office describing some of the dozens of security incidents in the region before the attack that claimed four American lives.
The three State Department officials who resigned today in the wake of the release of a scathing report on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya will probably be the only ones held accountable for that disaster. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is conveniently laid up due to a concussion and won’t testify before a congressional committee on the issue, just as she avoided being called to account in the aftermath of the murders even though she issued a statement saying she took “full responsibility” for what happened.
As Seth wrote earlier today, Clinton, who is resigning soon anyway, has managed to maintain a reputation as a successful secretary of state despite a record that can only be characterized as unremarkable at best. A more harsh assessment would say that she has failed on virtually every major issue, whether it was relations with Russia, the Middle East peace process, or stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The Benghazi debacle is just the frosting on the cake on four years in which Clinton skated by on her reputation and a press corps determined to flatter her. She was unable to achieve any real successes, but also was clearly subordinate to the White House rather than being the person calling the shots on policy.
While it’s clear that in the short run Clinton will escape the public opprobrium she deserves for presiding over the Benghazi fiasco, it would be wrong to assume that this is the last we will hear of it. If, as many expect, she runs for president in 2016, Democratic opponents will clobber her with the account of how her department ignored pleas for more security in Benghazi and then spread misleading stories about a terrorist attack being nothing more than film criticism run amok.
Since the terrorist attack in Benghazi killed our ambassador there and three others, I’ve been asking just how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has managed to avoid accountability for what was clearly her State Department’s failure. Others have begun asking that same question, including former Clinton administration official Aaron David Miller. Miller offered a few possible answers, one of which was that her expected run for the presidency in 2016–which is already in motion–has convinced the Washington establishment to stay on her good side.
Miller was asking the question in the context of the strangely effusive praise she has been receiving for her work as secretary of state, even though she has been surely unremarkable–and that was before the debacle in Benghazi (and, I would add, Foggy Bottom’s failure with regard to the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN). It’s possible that Miller is right–that most people don’t actually believe what they’re saying about Clinton, but are simply speaking flattery to power. But yesterday’s release of the inquiry into Benghazi should inspire at least some honesty about Clinton’s manifest failure there. It also explains why Republicans have latched on to Benghazi with such force: as the report shows, the tragedy in Benghazi was evidence of the failure of the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy across the administration.
The Accountability Review Board appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to look into the deadly assault on the Benghazi consulate has come back with a damning series of findings. The panel, chaired by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering, found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” which resulted in security “that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Not surprisingly, the panel affirmed what the intelligence community has been saying for months now, that contrary to what administration spokesmen said immediately afterward, there was no protest before the attack; it was simply a well-executed terrorist attack.
But for all of the rigor of the panel’s work, it was narrowly focused on the State Department’s handling of the situation. There is little said about the military response to the attacks, beyond the sending of a drone aircraft and the evacuation of the diplomats in Benghazi; and there is even less about the White House role in managing the response to the crisis, even though senior officials, up to and including the president, must have been aware of the attacks as they were occurring. Nor is there anything in the report about the failure, so far, to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice. Why, for example, has the administration seemingly decided to treat this as a law enforcement matter, with the FBI in the lead, rather than treating it as an act of war, with the armed forces in the lead? A fuller explanation of those issues awaits, presumably, more congressional digging.
State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland reiterated today that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not be testifying on a Benghazi report before congressional committees later this week because of a concussion she reportedly sustained after fainting from dehydration. According to Nuland, Clinton has sent letters to the heads of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, apologizing for her absence.
When pressed on whether Clinton will testify after she’s recovered, Nuland hedged a bit before saying that Clinton has made if clear that if there is an “ongoing conversation in January” that she’s “available for that.”
Though there has been no official announcement, it appears John Kerry will be nominated to serve as the next secretary of state. This isn’t surprising, and one of the reasons newspapers feel so confident reporting it is that there have been no other names mentioned seriously for the post since conventional wisdom solidified around Susan Rice and Kerry as the two main choices. (Earlier in the process there were indeed other names floated, but the same process that brought down Rice’s shot at the post elevated Kerry.)
The question, then, is not who will be nominated but why there isn’t any such question. One answer is that President Obama had a clear first choice–Rice–and never intended to use her understudy. Kerry’s name was bandied about as an easier way to flatter the longtime senator. Since Kerry was always the bridesmaid but never the bride, having been passed over for this position before, it would have seemed cruel to make him compete for second place. Like a football team that goes into a game with only two activated quarterbacks and then loses its starter, the second-string quarterback gets the ball without much fuss. But that raises another question, posed by Yochi Dreazen in the Washington Post: Why would the Democrats have so few options in the first place?
I wrote yesterday that Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next secretary of state was as much the result of a steady campaign against her from the left as it was a result of John McCain and the GOP’s campaign against her from the right. I wrote that the GOP side hadn’t been really driving this campaign for a while now. The Atlantic Wire offers a timeline that backs this up.
The timeline shows McCain shifting his criticism as early as November 20. But as I noted, by that time Democrats had latched on to the fight and the bipartisan effort doomed Rice. But events also make a convincing case for what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in defense of Rice: this was D.C. insider politics on a grand scale. Rice didn’t just lose to McCain or Hillary Clinton; she lost to Washington. It’s worth recalling, then, just how the elements of the capital worked against her.
Though the discussion appears to be moot now that Susan Rice has apparently withdrawn her name from consideration to be secretary of state, I agree with Max that the criticism of Rice’s undiplomatic style would seem to be complements when coming from conservatives. But I fear an important point is being lost: this criticism was not coming from the right, by and large. The attacks on Rice’s disposition have been driven by the left. Indeed, what is remarkable about the controversy over Rice is how thoroughly the left took command of it–and greatly expanded the effort to prevent her nomination.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Republicans on the Hill had basically limited their critique of Rice to her misleading statements following the Benghazi attack. Liberals, on the other hand, made it personal. Dana Milbank suggested Rice had an attitude problem. Maureen Dowd said Rice was too ambitious and unprincipled for her own good–or the country’s. Yesterday at the Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove launched a bizarre attack on Rice that accused her of having a personality disorder. The left has also been driving the less personal attacks as well. Howard French said Rice’s Africa legacy is the further empowerment of dictators. Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski knocked Rice for essentially enabling atrocities in Congo.
Yesterday, Rick Richman doubled down on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s continued acquiescence to Israel’s exclusion from the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the Obama administration’s marquee counterterrorism diplomatic program. Rick is right that the State Department is embarrassing itself, and rendering meaningless any outcome to the forum. But the willingness to exclude Israel for the mirage of success is not the exception, but rather the norm.
Consider the United Nations’s regional groupings. Logically, Israel should be part of the United Nations’s Asian Group, simply on the basis of geography. But Arab states block Israel’s membership—because, it seems, in the Middle East hatred trumps logic. That other United Nations members allow this nonsense demeans the entire body. After all, North Korea doesn’t block South Korea or vice versa, nor does India block Pakistan. While not a regional issue, the United States holds its nose and allows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit New York on UN business. Israel’s exclusion from the Asian Group has encouraged the worst excesses: Prior to Mary Robinson’s anti-Semitic Durban “anti-racism” Conference, the worst excesses came out of the Asian Group’s preparatory meeting in Tehran.
One of the most pronounced recent changes in the attitudes toward leadership and order of the two major American political parties is the reversal in affection for handing off the baton to the next in line. Republicans had long bestowed the party’s presidential nomination on last time’s runner-up, or a candidate who had put in his time and whose turn, it was believed, had come.
But the battle for the 2016 GOP nomination is looking wide open, and will likely consist of a cast of young, more conservative candidates competing to set the party’s new direction. The Democrats, on the other hand, nominated Barack Obama in 2008 with the rallying cry of striking out against political entitlement, embodied by Hillary Clinton. Next time, however, Democrats seem to want a coronation, not a nomination. And they would like the beneficiary of this appointment with history to be Hillary Clinton. Here’s James Carville yesterday on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”: